SXSW Interactive director addressed possible changes to festival in 2017

Hojun Choi

Big changes could be coming to the annual South by Southwest festival in 2017.

During a discussion held at the IBM Design studio in Austin on Tuesday, Hugh Forrest, director of SXSW Interactive, spoke about future changes to the badge system, the panel selection process and what attendees can expect at the next SXSW.

The new badge system will allow people to participate in a wider variety of events than in previous years.

“For 2017 there will be a lot more flexibility and functionality for badge holders to attend other events,” Forrest said. “You might be able to buy an interactive badge and attend music and film events, and vice versa.”

As music, film and technology have evolved, Forrest said making boundaries that existed between these communities hard to maintain for festival organizers. He said a major goal of the festival will be to promote more integration between the music, film and interactive communities.

Though he did not discuss in detail how these changes will affect badge prices, Forrest said organizers are working to make sure that a large audience can continue to afford to attend future festivals.

“Registration rates for 2017 will be competitive with pricing from 2016,” Forrest said. “And from a value standpoint, we’ll be offering much more to our attendees.”

Forrest also spoke about PanelPicker, an online voting and application platform designed to give the community a voice in what panels they would like to see most at SXSW Interactive. The platform also allows for more people to have a chance at presenting their idea at the festival.

Forrest gave attendees advice on how to best stand out during the application process, and warned against pitching presentations that rely too heavily on the technological details of their idea.

“Our most popular speakers or most popular sessions are those that emphasize creativity and emphasize possibility,” Forrest said.

Last year, many panels and showcases focused on the possibilities within virtual reality, showing how the new technology can affect the music, film and technology industries.

Dave Beck, managing partner of Foundry 45, a virtual reality startup based in Atlanta, said he saw a lot of excitement for virtual reality during this year’s festival. Beck’s company was showcased at a SXSW event featuring groups from Atlanta’s startup and technology industry.

“It was an amazing experience and it really felt like virtual reality was huge,” Beck said. “[The festival] is such a perfect venue for it as well, because there are a lot of points of intersection between the different crowds that attend.”

In addition to virtual reality, Forrest said artificial intelligence is likely to be among popular areas of interest during next year’s event. He also said that he expects the Dell Medical School to garner a lot of attention at the next festival.

“We think that the Dell Medical School will push more innovation and more startups in the health and medtech marketplace, and we think SXSW should be in place to take advantage of that,” Forrest said.